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An Interview With...Jim Lanahan


How did you get started in theater?  What hooked you? Was it your first
school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show?  What inspired you to be where you are today?
   I had an amazing theater arts teacher in Junior High School. She stopped me in the hallway one day and told me that I was going to be in the big spring play. I was so scared!  So, my first role was 'Grandpa' in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (at age 15!).  I am sure I was horrible, but I caught 'the bug' then.
    From that point on I just had a string of really influential people in my
life who supported and believed in me.  There was another high school
teacher, a college professor and eventually a friend who wound up
representing me professionally. Oh, and my Mom has always been very
supportive, which is VERY helpful.
    Along with these people came bigger and more important jobs, and I just took 'baby steps' until I started getting leads and eventually the job I have
today on Broadway.

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it?
I studied acting and improvisation as a teenager with a group called The
Northway Construction Company (I know some of those old friends are reading this.  HI!)  In college I studied acting with Mark Heckler and voice with Carol Smyth and (later with) Ruth Williams.  These teachers are now
producers and coaches here in NYC (- never underestimate the value of a good connection!).  A lot of my friends from 'the old days' work on Broadway shows now.  It was an exciting time to be growing and learning with such talented people!  I worked really hard and was fortunate enough to be cast in some regional shows and eventually national tours.


How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the
director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
At this point, there are roles that I know I am right for, and am waiting for the chance to audition (can anyone say 'Horton the Elephant' from SEUSSICAL?).  But the other factors (directors, theater) also come into
play, especially when they ask me to be in a show and I find myself
wavering.  If I do not like the director, I will definitely NOT do the show... but if I like the director I may do a show I am uncertain about because I know the experience will be fun and worthwhile.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
    Come now!-we all hate pre-casting UNLESS we are the one being pre-cast!  I am pre-cast a lot, but here are my true feelings on it:
    Professionally, I hear of pre-casting all the time.  A big name will always
get cast over a small name-it just makes better business sense, in terms of
box office.  And it is called show business, not show fun. 
    But pre-casting in regional and community houses is rarely justified.  There are so many levels of talent within those ranks, and I think everyone should be given an equal opportunity.  Also (for the most part) no one at that level has a great enough name value to make or break a show.  I always hear of directors wanting to work with friends, and I can understand that, but I find it most often compromises the value of the performance and/or
production.  In general it seems silly and adversely political to me.

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a
certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly?  When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Jim Lanahan" type?
(laughing!) "...seeking male, age range 18-30, comic, flaming who can belt
it out like an African American woman".  Ha!  Apparently directors see me in
musical comedy supporting roles carrying the top tenor line, because that is
what I usually get!  I am at an odd place right now with my type - it is
hard to be a young character actor, because so few roles are written for us.
I think as we mature and look older we character types find more and more
opportunities.  J  How did Rob Jones answer this question?  I always used to read against him at call-backs.  (HI ROB!) 


What is your approach to developing your character?
    I read the role quickly first to get a feel for the character.  Then I put
the script away for a couple of days and think about the character.  I think
a really good actor can find inspiration in their own past as well as their
daily life.  I work and play with some amazing characters, so there is
always material to draw upon.  Then I go back to the script and re-read,
analyze, read 'between the lines' and take my initial impressions of the
character further.  My training was heavily Stanislavsky, and I find I
intuitively use those techniques without thinking about it. 
    You can also learn so much about your own character by listening and
watching the other actors interpret the scenes they share with you.  Acting
is so much listening and reacting - having a good scene partner(s) can help
flush out your own performance.  AND I never underestimate the importance of a good director, they are invaluable.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
Norma Desmond in my living room.  (kidding).  I felt really connected when
playing 'Mercolm' in SILVER SKATES and 'Jack' in INTO THE WOODS.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
    I was a good 'Jack'.  I also felt really good about 'Baladeer' in ASSASSINS, and got some nice reviews. 
    As for my worst role, I was 'a tree' last summer in a show at Gray Wig, and
I couldn't hold still and my branches shook and I was a car wreck!! The tree
next to me used to laugh at me!  (I know some of my fellow trees are reading
this and understand!).  At the end of the scene I had to drop my tree and
fall to the ground...I was paranoid about hitting the lead actress with my
branches every night!

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you
think you met the challenge?
I am actually more challenged when I have smaller roles and need to find
business to keep busy on stage.  That business is not spelled out for you in
the script, and it is too easy to stop your own action and watch the other
actors - especially if you are working with a really captivating cast.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this
Well, there was that role in BIG RIVER...

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
I want to do the newer dramatic musicals, like PARADE, TICK TICK BOOM, THOU SHALT NOT, SIDE SHOW or either of THE WILD PARTY's.  These show are so stylized, well written and reliant on collaboration and a tight cast.  I love the feel of these shows when done right.  And I find them to be more personally challenging, so I like that, too. 


How do you feel when you perform?
Alive! Connected! When it is good, it feels like everything comes together
perfectly at the precisely right moment.  But when it is bad...time stands

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
Well, now theater is my job.  It is how I make my living.  However, I still
make time to do 'my own thing' - perform for my own sanity - it is like a
hobby for me, and the dedication it takes to make a performance worthwhile
forces me to put every other aspect of my hectic life into perspective.
Doing what I love 24/7 is really a gift!

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to
myself?"  Why do you do it?
I do it because I love it.  I usually don't get jitters for opening...I get OVERLY nervous at auditions.


What is your favorite theater story?
   I was singing a song at an AIDS benefit in upstate NY and it was our final
dress, with an invited audience.  The orchestra was in a pit, which could be
elevated up and down.  Towards the end of my song the orchestra was miscued to raise up out of the pit and I had to finish my song with an entire
orchestra in front of me.  Enjoyable.
    There are some other stories that are a bit too much to be printed
here...just think about 'live' mics backstage and the audience hearing
dressing room talk and a toilet flushing.  Hah!

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable,
crack up on stage?
    Ask ANYONE who did PHANTOM at CAP about the 'Phantom Fugue' - we could never get through it without cracking up!  It was too funny.
    Another time I was on tour with ANYTHING GOES and sprained my ankle very badly, causing me to miss my next entrance completely.  I remember my scene partner making up lines for what seemed like 5 minutes, and eventually the stage manager just called the black out and went onto the next scene. I felt horrible. 

What was your worst theater experience?
National tour of LA BOHEME with The American Opera.  Seven angry opera
divas, bad hotels, low pay and a crappy show.  Not much fun.  That producer STILL owes me money, too!

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
    I was doing 'Bert' in 42nd STREET at The Stage and had been added in as a tap dancer in "We're in the Money".  As I entered for the song, holding my huge dime, I was supposed to do a grand battement and as I did my pants split completely from front to back.  Needless to say, I held my dime in
front of me for the rest of the number!  The choreographer just sat in the
audience laughing at me.


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
I work at theaters that treat performers well and create a supportive sense
of family.  So many people take themselves too seriously! My general motto:
if it is not fun, I will not do it anymore.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
YES!  There is such a pool of talent and (thank god!) enough people willing
to produce shows.  Most definitely.

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?  Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
I have worked with hundreds!  I fully appreciate actors who combine
professionalism, talent, and are fun.  Some Long Island/Queens based
actors/directors that come to mind:  Emily Nadler Klein, Tommy Johnson, Lu Petronelli, Bruce Reibold, Staci Cobb, Joe Hoffman, Dawn LeBrecht, Mickey LeBrecht, Melissa Ferguson, Heather Ann Hickman, Randi Berman, Betty McDonough, Sean Mundy(!), Rachel Moses, Lisa Marg and Gerald Crawford.  I could go on, and there are many I admire that I have not worked with.   

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
My fave up-and-coming performers include Gwen Hollander, Rebecca Codling, Shoshanna Bean and Scottie Barnhardt. Remember their names - they will be big Broadway stars in a year, and are great people to boot! I also love Taylor Dayne(!), Jerry Dixon and NORM LEWIS(!!!!).    I could watch the
following list of Long Island performers all day:  Staci Cobb, Susan Agin,
Christy Reinert, Steve Arzt, Nicole Alisi, Rob Jones, Alberta Doxey.


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
It can be really difficult.  I work for a Broadway producer by day, and so I
am fortunate enough to see a different workshop/show/cabaret almost every night.  It is SO hard to find the time to do a show on LI.  Also, it is too
easy to blur the line between my hobby and my career, people can have such odd expectations of me because of my day job.

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
YES!  They know how it important it is to me.  My mom is one of my biggest

How has performing enriched your life?
Oh, gosh - for many years it dominated my life and kept me focused.  I used
to be very shy (can you imagine that?) and performing helped me to come out of my shell.  And there are certain lessons we all learn in the theater
about discipline, task/role, and responsibility that transcend in to all
other parts of our life. 


What brings you the greatest joy?
I love my friends and family!  I love Krispy Kreme donuts.  I love watching
people I care about succeed.  In terms of theater, I love seeing new/great
talent in a really wonderful show.  Like a new work or old fave done well.
For example, Denise Greene's FORVER PLAID at CAP comes to mind. I really loved it.

What really irks you?
Arrogance. Ignorance. Osama. Bad Sondheim reviews.

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would.
Buy my Mom a new house.  Move to a bigger apartment in Manhattan, and
audition full time.  Start a production company with Staci Cobb.  Give Mary
Cloutier a job, and make Marissa Poe famous.  Pay off my student loans.
Give money to arts-in-education organizations. 

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Is this a trick questions?  I guess if I was rich I could get whatever
plastic surgery I want to change my looks.  That would be so enjoyable.

What's your favorite word?

When you reach the pearly gates what do you want St. Peter to say?
"We saved the deluxe suite for you.  Your maid will be up with a Diet Dr.
Pepper in a moment."  That's also enjoyable.


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be
aware of? Please give details) 
Looking for the right show...and a night off!